The Lyrical Evolution of Lecrae From ‘Real Talk’ to ‘Restoration’
Two-time grammy-award winning artist Lecrae has been widely known by CHH and the wider hip-hop community as a prominent Christian rapper. Beginning his career in 2004 with Real Talk, Lecrae has released nine studio albums, including the contemporary Let the Trap Say Amen with Zaytoven in 2019 and his upcoming Restoration in March.
Over the course of his 16-year career, Lecrae has stayed true to the tenets of his faith but also changed tremendously as a person in terms of opinions, convictions, and beliefs. These dynamics have bled out in the lyrical content of his music and show a definite difference from the passage of time. Specifically, Lecrae has evolved lyrically as an artist through pushing forward Christ in a way that engages culture, makes sense of reality, and shares personal details of his life, ultimately “changing the way people see the world.”
This is in stark contrast to his previous style of writing, which was directly speaking out against sinful lifestyles and calling people to pursue righteousness. Many have questioned Lecrae’s motives for changing his lyrical style, claiming he has done this to reach a wider audience with greedy intentions; others believe he has become ashamed of the Gospel, contradicting his 116 mantras.
When analyzing some of Lecrae’s greatest hits from his studio albums of the past, it is apparent that Lecrae had written as a preacher, directly pushing forward the Kingdom of God by inviting people to repent of their sin and pursue righteousness. From Real Talk in 2004, his first album release, “Souled Out” was an unapologetic call to complete surrender and service to Christ, placing an emphasis upon personal holiness and dying to oneself:
“We souled out/Seeking God’s face til we foldout/He want it, we got it/We ain’t tryna hold out/Break me, shape me, mold me/I’d rather die like Christ/Than live unholy.”
Lecrae holds back nothing when telling his audience to die to themselves and live for Christ. He is fierce and bold. In the second verse, he paints a vivid picture of the seriousness of one’s eternal destination using the metaphor of a man standing in the path of an oncoming train in order to persuade his listeners to repent of their sinful lifestyles.
He also carries this attitude in later projects such as “Don’t Waste Your Life” from Rebel. While setting up the premise of life’s purpose being fulfilled in glorifying Christ in the first verse, the second verse finishes by providing application, saying that the time, talent and treasure God gave people were meant to be stewarded “to show the world that Christ is divine.” Lecrae makes it black and white that the alternative, living a life of sin, is a life devoid of purpose. His goal through his music is to push people toward righteous living and repent of their sin because following Christ is more soul-quenching, spirit-satisfying:
“Every day I’m living tryna show the world why/Christ is more than everything you’ll ever try/Better than pretty women and sinning and living to get a minute/Of any women or men that you admire.”
In the sobering reality of human sinfulness and God’s just wrath, Lecrae pronounces to the world in the song “Boasting” from Rehab that he “hopes in nothing, boasts in nothing, only in [Jesus’] suffering.” The cross is all that he has in regard to justification and he encourages his audience to adopt a similar view. In light of his humility before God, the desire for the Spirit to take him through a “sanctifying surgery” is birthed, producing righteousness in the life of a believer. This line is used to cause the listener to reflect on their own life as they consider Lecrae’s and choose to allow God to mold them into Christ’s image.
Being an ex-drug dealer, Lecrae has strong views regarding the use of weed and proudly condemns the practice in “Blow Your High” from Rehab: The Overdose when he compares smoking weed to the Biblical passage of the idolatrous man whom God’s wrath will eventually come upon.
“The devil got you blind from the weed that you blow/You worshippin’ a tree instead of worshippin’ the King/When He made everything Romans 1:23.”
He references the words of Jesus when he preaches that the one who pursues chemical pleasures is a slave to hedonistic ambitions, causing someone to continuously need the high they provide. Lecrae is using this language to persuade his listeners to repent of their sin before it is too late and they spend their eternity surrounded by smoke.
A marked difference from his preacher persona can be seen sometime after Church Clothes, where his lyrical style shifts toward pushing forward Christ in a way that engages culture, make sense of reality and shares the personal details of his life.
One prominent example that even reached the attention of MTV was “Welcome to America” from his 2014 album Anomaly in which he displays a variety of perspectives in America, ranging from his own personal life to a military veteran suffering from PTSD and a foreign immigrant worker seeking United States citizenship.
“Uh, I was made in America, land of the free, home of the brave/Right up under your nose you might see a sex slave being traded/And will do anything for the money/Boy, a momma might sell her babies/Sell porn, sell pills, anything to pay the bills/Anything to bring that pay.”
Rather than directly quote Scripture or condemn sin, Lecrae works to engage his listeners with culture by considering each perspective of America, adding a level of authenticity to his music. Although he does not offer any answers to the messy situations he poses, he does bring up the conversation, which allows his listeners to “see the world differently.”
“Can’t Stop Me Now (Destination)” is another profound example of Lecrae’s new lyrical style in which he tries his best to make sense of the deaths of innocent black men and how he was given flack for speaking out actively against these heinous acts:
“Another murder on the television/Man, somebody go turn it off/I spoke my mind, I got attacked for it/Thought these people had my back boy/Then they tellin’ me I asked for it/I guess I’m just another black boy.”
Instead of addressing these issues, the evangelical community downplayed the significance of the deaths of men such as Tamir Rice and told him to continue confessing Christ without dealing with what he considers to be an all-important issue for confessing Christians.
“And then they killed Tamir Rice/And they just go on with they life/They tellin’ me shut up talking ‘bout it/Like, I should just talk about Christ.”
Making this track personal, Lecrae shares details of his life such as the decline of his mental health and doubt in his faith toward Christ, which contrasts the strong preacher lyricist from the past. Lecrae pushes forward Christ in the midst of this bleak situation by explaining that Jesus is not identified as “American” or affiliated with any political party, which gave him the hope to continue trusting in Him regardless of how the evangelical community responds.
Finally, Lecrae gives personal testimony to the faithfulness of God through his journey making music in the final track of Let the Trap Say Amen, “By Chance.” He has come a long way from writing raps in his kitchen with Tedashii to traveling around the world performing his songs and it was God who carried them through it every step of the way. As indicated by the chorus, both men now understand that God is sovereign over every situation and know He is trustworthy to handle all of life’s challenges.
“Cause nothin’ is by chance/Give me the strength to understand the things You see that I can’t/Had to call my problems and I put ‘em all in Your hands/I know that this is Your plan.”
Lecrae uses his testimony as a means of encouraging his listeners that Jesus can pull them through anything, no matter how bleak it may look, and even name drops Meek Mill with the promise that he is praying for him.
“Went to Philly told the city ‘Free Meek Milly/If he ever need to talk hope he know I’m out here prayin’ for ‘em.”
Lecrae has changed dramatically as a person since the beginning of his career and these changes are clearly evident through his music. Lyrically, he has evolved as an artist by communicating spiritual truths in a way that engage culture, make sense of reality, and share personal details of his life, unlike his previous preaching against sin and preaching toward the pursuit of holiness. It is no wonder that Lecrae, as he has aged, has become more of a respected rapper, activist, and Christian. Some members of the evangelical community may believe he has sold out due to greedy intentions or grown ashamed of Christ’s message.